Canadian Football League

Thursday, February 10, 2005

A true field general Ex-QB now a sought-after speaker,teacher

But none of the queries had to do with McPherson's accomplishments on the gridiron, or even some of the legends he played with during his days in the National Football League. All the two 10-year-olds wanted to know was how much money he made. "I knew right there I couldn't continue promoting something like that," said McPherson. "It was one of my most profound moments. Two young kids and all they wanted to know was if I made $10 million."Since that day more than a decade ago, the former West Hempstead High School quarterback and 1987 Heisman Trophy runner-up has dedicated his life to public service. He has lectured National Basketball Association players on the importance of earning a college degree, encouraged male athletes to respect women both verbally and physically and is currently the associate director of Athletes Helping Athletes, Inc. (AHA), a nonprofit organization at Adelphi University, where he also teaches courses in leadership development and sports and civility. In the wake of the 2003 college football scandal in which young women claimed to have been raped by high school football players on a recruiting trip at the University of Colorado, McPherson testified before Congress. "I blew up. I lost it. I told [Congress] this was not a recruiting issue, but an issue of assault and rape," he said. "Alcohol and sex is guy stuff. It's as old as the hills. But this was out of control."In 1982, McPherson was an All-American in football and track, the leader of a stout West Hempstead High School football team. He earned the Thorp Award as Nassau County's top player and was heavily recruited by some of the top football programs in the nation. When he spoke to college coaches eager to get him in uniform, there was one question he always asked: when was the last time a black quarterback lined up behind center? None were able to answer. McPherson played in an era when black quarterbacks, regardless of their arm strength and leadership ability, were encouraged to switch positions to best utilize the player's 'athleticism.' McPherson would have none of that. He was a quarterback. It the only position he knew. Then he met Syracuse head coach Dick MacPherson. MacPherson could not answer the young star's questions about the Orangemen's last black quarterback, but there was something about 'Coach Mac' the young signal caller liked. MacPherson was never at a loss for words and upstate Syracuse was just a few miles from McPherson's grandmother's house. Plus, MacPherson never once mentioned a position change. The precocious quarterback, son of a New York City police officer and nurse, packed his bags and headed north to Syracuse.By his own admission, the team lacked the self-discipline to be a winner his first three years at the school. Too much partying and not enough on-field dedication prevented the Orangemen from winning consistently. Every Thursday night, the team would get a free keg of beer at a local bar. By the time they took the field Friday mornings, few players had the stomach to warm up, let alone execute plays to perfection 24 hours before game day. Then came the 1987 season.Both the players and coaching staff rededicated themselves. Rather than running a traditional option offense, MacPherson decided to open things up. He lifted some plays from the play books of offensive-minded programs and gave his quarterback the opportunity to air the ball out more often. The players adopted a no-alcohol policy. Some of the upperclassmen began policing bars to make certain everyone honored the pact. Though there was the occasional slip-up, the days of four-for-one cocktails were over."Every Thursday for the whole season, we ran like a machine," he said. "There was a noticeable difference."McPherson lead the Orangemen to an undefeated record and after a late season game against defending national champs Penn State, Heisman talk began circulating. The Syracuse offense hung 41 points on Penn State - known as Linebacker U. for its ability to recruit top-notch linebackers - before McPherson exited in the third quarter. McPherson would go on to lead the nation in passing and tossed 22 touchdown passes. Yet he paid little attention to the Heisman buzz. "There was no pressure to perform," he said.McPherson was admittedly cool the week leading up to the ceremony. The same could not be said for his biggest rival for the hardware, Notre Dame triple threat Tim Brown."I wasn't even supposed to be a part of it. I wasn't even the best player on my team," McPherson said. "The pressure was on Tim. He hated Heisman night."Brown won the Heisman, with McPherson the runner-up. But all was not lost. McPherson was the MVP of the Sugar Bowl, a 16-16 tie with Auburn University. He took home the Maxwell Award as the collegiate player of the year, the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award as the nation's top quarterback and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award as the top senior quarterback. He left Syracuse the holder of 22 passing records and paved the way for black quarterbacks Marvin Graves and Donovan McNabb at Syracuse.He never really considering becoming a pro quarterback prior to the 1987 season, but after his impressive senior campaign, he sent letters to all 28 teams in the National Football League. His message was simple: if you don't envision me as a quarterback, don't waste a draft pick on me. Two teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, attended his pre-draft workout."I'm the number one passer in the nation ahead of [UCLA star quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboy Troy] Aikman. Don't ask me to do something different," he said, noting that teams tried to convince him he could be a special teams star.On day one of the 1988 draft, McPherson drove from Syracuse to West Hempstead. He did not even bother to turn on the radio. The next day, the Philadelphia Eagles made him the second quarterback selected (sixth round, 149th player taken). McPherson backed up Eagles star Randall Cunningham his first two pro seasons before moving on to the Houston Oilers in 1990. With the Oilers, another stud quarterback stood in his way: Warren Moon, one of the NFL's all-time leading passers. He returned to Philadelphia for the 1991 season before playing three years with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. His specialty in Hamilton was coming off the bench when the game seemed out of reach and rallying his squad to victory. His efforts made him one of the highest paid players in the league. He began teaching and lecturing during his last CFL season. He was coordinator for the Student-Athlete Leadership and Nassau County Athletes Against Drunk Driving. After serving as program coordinator for AHA of Long Island, he established AHA Canada, Inc. McPherson also conducted workshops dealing with substance abuse and violence prevention in New York correctional facilities. In 1994, McPherson began working in Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society. He now works at Adelphi University in Garden City.McPherson has become a nationally-recognized figure, speaking about violence and the male athlete and racism in sports. He has appeared on various news networks and was a guest on the Oprah Winfrey show last year. "Every road I've taken, being a quarterback and black and dealing with racism and the media, all that helps me now," he said.McPherson is content, pleased with the way life has turned out. Eight months ago, McPherson and wife Catherine welcomed daughter Ava into the world. "I'm right where God wants me to be. The work I do is important," he said. "If things went better in the NFL, what would my life be like? I can't comprehend it because I wouldn't be doing the work the do right now."


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